Most people today do not think of slavery as something that existed in Connecticut - or in Derby. However, it did with its earliest recordings in CT in the 1620's and it was legally recognized as an institution in 1650. It wasn't until 1783 that the state passed emancipation laws.
And even fewer people know of the existence of another somewhat related institution - the Black Governors of Connecticut. Though not a formal or powerful as the office of CT governor, the Black Governors had parallels to the real governors though no one is 100 percent sure of their powers. We'll come back to that.
It appears that Quosh (he had no surname) was born in Ghana and was eventually kidnapped and sold into slavery. His last owner was Lt. Agar (Agur) Tomlinson of Derby. Following Tomlinson's death, his will provided for Quosh and his wife Mary who had been previously owned by a Rev. Mr. Yale were to be given their freedom. They also received along land, a small dwelling, a barn, a yoke of oxen, a cow and farming implements. That land is believed to be within the area of present day Osborneldale State Park. In 2012 the was the subject of an archeological dig conducted by professors and students from Central Connecticut State College (Click here for story.)
Quosh had built a reputation for his strength and work habits long before earning his freedom, and his stature continued to grow after his emancipation. While under Tomlinson's direction, he was in charge of all of Tomlinson's slaves and some accounts said that he even bossed around his master!
The tradition of Black Governors goes back to as early as the 1750's and speculation is that their responsibilities included presiding over legal matters in the Black community, officiating at ceremonies, and maintaining an African-based social organization.1 A man was elected governor for his wisdom, strength, honesty, and for the respect that he commanded. He often appointed his own officers who helped him keep the peace.2 Some of the governors may have been leaders in their tribes in Africa before ending up in slavery, and whites may have seen this as an opportunity for their slaves to take some role in controlling behavior short of using courts for whites.
The earliest governors seemed to have been elected in Hartford with all the celebratory trappings that slaves saw connected to the inauguration of the regular governors. An article on the history of Black Governors in the Evening Sentinel on June 13, 1902 suggested that whites tolerated the fun, but blacks took the role - and the election very seriously.
By 1800, Derby had become the site for the election. The Sentinel described it as being a great festival and "Colored people came to Derby from all the neighboring towns, some of them from as far north as Hartford."3
And that is when Quosh emerges. Now known as Quosh Freeman (The surname that he adopted when he gained his freedom), Quosh is said to have exhibited extraordinary strength and courage on the morning of the election. According to the account in the Evening Sentinel, he was said to have "caught a bull by the horns and nose and threw it to the ground when the animal, enraged by the flaunting colors borne by the people was about to charge the crowd." His rival for the governorship withdrew from the race, and Quosh was elected. The year was believed to have been 1810.
Quosh's son Rosewell J. Freeman went on to become Black Governor about 1835. and his grandson, Ebenezer D. Bassett (another Hall of Famer) went on to become the first native born African American diplomat when President Ulysses Grant appointed him ambassador to Haiti.
1 - Digital Archaeological Record - https://core.tdar.org/document/436910/connecticuts-black-governors
2. Connecticut Explored - https://www.ctexplored.org/monument-to-the-black-governors/
3. The Evening Sentinel - June 13, 1902. page 8